Sox, Rays in rare set between also-rans

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A few quick hits before the Red Sox open a four-game, Labor Day weekend series with the Tampa Bay Rays:

• This will be the first time since 2006 the teams play a late-season series in which neither club is in playoff contention. The Rays are four games under .500, 12 games behind the Orioles in the AL East, and 8 games behind in the wild-card race. The Sox (58-75) are 17 games below .500, 18 ½ games behind the Orioles and 14 ½ games out of wild-card spot.

Yes, in 2011 the Rays began September nine games out in the AL East and 7 1/2 games out in the wild-card race and made the tournament, but they were a much better team that season (74-61 entering September), they had just three teams ahead of them for the wild card, and it took a monumental collapse by the Sox (7-20) to get them there.

This season, the Rays have five teams ahead of them for the second wild-card spot.

• Pitching for the Rays Friday night is right-hander Chris Archer, the first time the Sox will be facing him since July 27, when Archer took exception to David Ortiz’s bat flip, saying it proved that now ex-teammate David Price was right when he said Ortiz thinks he’s "bigger than the game."

"I think it was a perfect example of what Price said," Archer said that day. "All of my interactions ... off the field have been good, but when it comes to him on the field, I don't know what makes him think that he can showboat the way he does and then nobody retaliate, nobody look at him a funny way or nobody pitch him inside."

Ortiz suggested afterward that Archer didn’t have the bona fides to call him out, saying the young Rays right-hander had "two days in the league."

Archer wasn’t interested in addressing the topic with Rays beat reporters in Baltimore on Thursday. He said he had "no expectations" of further issues.

• The Sox need to go 12-17 the rest of the way to finish ahead of the 69-93 record of 2012's last-place finishers.

• The Red Sox Gulf Coast League team plays at noon in Jupiter against the GCL Cardinals in a one-game semifinal playoff. If they win, they will meet a Yankees GCL team in a best-of-three final round, in which Cuban newcomer Rusney Castillo could possibly see action. Castillo was working out in Fort Myers on Friday morning.

• Rookie right-hander Anthony Ranaudo is starting for the Sox on Friday night. Ranaudo, who has made two previous starts for the Sox and won them both, has won his last 11 decisions (9 for Pawtucket) since last losing a game June 1 at Norfolk.

The 6-foot-7 Ranaudo pitched six innings in both of his starts for the Sox, beating the Yankees, 4-3, in Fenway Park on Aug. 1 and beating the Reds, 5-4, on Aug. 13 in Cincinnati, despite giving up all four runs (and two homers) in six innings.

His numbers across the board in Pawtucket are impressive: 14-4 with a 2.61 ERA, 111 strikeouts and 54 walks in 138 innings, opponents’ batting average of .223 and a WHIP of 1.20.

Jon Lester and John Lackey have produced identical results in one important category since their trades to the Athletics and Cardinals, respectively. Both of their teams have won four out of the five games in which they have started. Lackey was knocked around for nine runs in five innings against the Orioles on Aug. 9, but has allowed two earned runs or fewer in his other four starts, and has gone seven innings in three of them.

Lester, meanwhile, has allowed three earned runs or fewer in all five of his starts, one a complete-game shutout win over the Twins.

Jake Peavy, meanwhile, has seen his luck improve only marginally since his trade to the Giants, who are 2-4 in his six starts. He wound up with a loss in his last start, Aug. 25 against the Rockies, even though he allowed just one earned run in seven innings. He has allowed three earned runs or fewer in five of his six starts.

• Sox starters since the July 31 trading deadline are 5-8 with a 5.19 ERA. Nine times in that span a starter has failed to go six innings, including four out of the last six starts, which has taxed an undermanned Sox bullpen.